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Pilots should check fuel: ATSB report

Pilots of small planes are being urged to check they have enough fuel before take-off after a light aircraft was forced to make a crash landing in Sydney last year.

The pilot of the Piper PA-28-181 was forced to make an unexpected landing in a field after his left fuel tank ran dry about 15km from Bankstown Airport about 3pm on September 15, 2017.

An Australian Transport and Safety Bureau investigation report on Tuesday found the pilot more likely than not mistook the plane he was flying with one he had refuelled earlier in the day.

On its return flight from Wollongong, and at 1500 feet in the air with one passenger onboard, the engine began fluctuating.

Rather than continue towards the heavily populated area of Bankstown, which is surrounded by schools, hospitals, main train lines and buildings, the pilot turned the plane towards the sparser area of Camden.

The pilot had just enough time to do emergency checks before making a mayday call and advising his passenger to brace before landing the plane in a nearby field, the ATSB found.

On the rough ground, the pilot concentrated on keeping the plane straight as it ran through a fence and stopped only after its wing struck a tree.

The ATSB report also found the pilot did not flick the fuel selector switch from the empty left tank to the right, which still had about one-quarter of a tank of fuel, because he was prioritising flying the plane.

The pilot received minor injuries and the passenger escaped unharmed but the plane was substantially damaged.

The local fuel agent used by the operator reported the plane was not refuelled before the flight, the ATSB report said.

The pilot had recently completed his private pilot licence from the flight school before hiring the plane for a return training trip to Wollongong.